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Rowan health director says COVID-19 deaths preventable as county sees No. 315

SALISBURY — People are continuing to die potentially preventable deaths from COVID-19, says Rowan County Health Director Alyssa Harris.

Harris’ statement came as state health officials on Tuesday reported the 315th death attributed to COVID-19 in Rowan County. Data doesn’t yet show when the COVID-19 death occurred. Other information about the death also wasn’t immediately clear, including whether it continued a trend of recent COVID-19 deaths in the county being among unvaccinated people.

Harris said local staff members also are investigating another death of an unvaccinated person, but she wasn’t sure whether it was included in the county’s total. At 315 or 316, Rowan remains among the worst 10 counties in the state for COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Only more populated counties have higher death tolls.

“It is extremely disheartening to see these reports and know that these deaths were potentially preventable,” Harris said. “Vaccines are the safest way for people to get immunity from the virus to protect themselves, their families, and our community. We do not want to see Rowan County go backwards this fall. Please, please get vaccinated!”

Particularly in Rowan, vaccination progress has been slow, and the county is somewhere between below average and the worst in the state no matter which statistic is used. While about 50% of North Carolinians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, just 36% of Rowan Countians (about 51,000 people) have done the same. The local number is slightly better (41.8%) when only those 12 and older are counted — the age group for which vaccines have been officially approved.

Nationwide, about 66.5% of people 12 and older are vaccinated with at least one dose. Statewide, the number is 59%.

Harris said more than 94% COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina are of unvaccinated people and  virus transmission is higher in counties with lower vaccination rates. On July 12, 135 active cases were reported with about 6.4% of tests coming back positive. The number is now 298 with 9.9% of tests coming back positive.

“With 94% of cases and deaths being unvaccinated we’re seeing the vaccines hold to their efficacy,” she said. “No vaccine offers 100% protection, but we are seeing that individuals who get COVID-19 after being vaccinated are less likely to have severe symptoms or a poor health outcome. We are concerned for those people who are taking every precaution and yet are still being impacted by COVID-19 because of their interactions with unvaccinated people or because of their inability to get vaccinated, like children 0 – 11.”

Of the cases popping up in North Carolina, about 90% are the Delta variant, which was first identified last year in India and has propelled a surge cross the country. Harris said people should make sure to receive both doses of a vaccine for the most protection against the Delta variant.

The new cases are already producing a spike in hospitalizations. The number of people hospitalized in the 18-county hospital region that includes Rowan was just 68 at the start of July. It’s now 193. Deaths are a “lagging indicator” of COVID-19 spread, Harris said. That means the case and hospitalization spike happening now is likely to produce deaths weeks from now.

“We do not currently know what deaths these new cases will result in, but we know how COVID-19 typically plays out — especially in populations with a large percentage of underlying conditions,” Harris said, noting that Rowan Countians are less healthy than the average North Carolinian.

Because most seniors in the state and county are vaccinated, the spike in hospitalizations is occurring in a younger age group. The average age of hospitalizations has dropped from 61 to 47, Harris said.

People who want to be vaccinated can visit vaccines.gov to find a site closest to them. There are more than a dozen sites in Salisbury and Rowan County that offer vaccines. The following are among them:
• The Rowan County Health Department, 1811 East Innes St. in Salisbury.
• Novant Health clinic at the J.F. Hurley YMCA, 828 Jake Alexander Boulevard W. This site operates Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Food Lion No. 10 at 525 Jake Alexander Boulevard West in Salisbury.
• Northern Rowan Family Medicine, 300 Salisbury Ave. in Spencer.
• Price Pharmacy, 422 U.S. 29 in China Grove.
• CVS Pharmacy in Rockwell, 8765 U.S. 52.

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